Cruising on the river Shannon is popular with visitors to Offaly and locals alike
Offaly, part of Ireland’s Heartlands, is accessible from almost everywhere in Ireland, and offers some stunning top-class outdoor pursuits. Take to the skies, the water, the mountains and the trails – if you’re looking for a thrilling adventure, you’ve come to the right place. Looking for thrills in the middle of Ireland, here are our top three thrilling activities.
Offaly Mountain biking
The majestic Slieve Bloom Mountains, which lie between Offaly and Laois, are home to 80km of new mountain bike trails, with more in development. Trailheads are at Kinnitty and Baunreagh and the waymarked trails, which traverse around the mountains and through the forest, have two grades to choose from.
There’s the blue trail ‘Mountain Top’, which is challenging, with numerous difficult sections across the road. The full distance of this route is 10km, with 220 metres of climbing, but there is an option for riders to take a shorter blue loop which reduces the distance to 6km, with 150m climbing.
The red trail, also known as the ‘River Run’, is 30km in total and more challenging, with 220 metres climbing and tricky descents. The red route re-connects to the blue route and you can tackle both if you’re really looking for a challenge! Bikes available to hire from the Slieve Bloom Mountain Bike Centre and Bloom ERiders based in the heart of Kinnitty. Guided mountain bike tours available, if you really want to get to know the mountains.
Another way to absorb the beauty of the Slieve Bloom Mountains is by horseback. Birr Equestrian Centre, which has been catering for riders and horse enthusiasts for over 35 years, operates a trekking facility on the grounds of Kinnitty Castle. The treks can be catered to suit the needs of riders, whether beginner or advanced, and you’ll have scenic views of rivers, waterfalls, valleys, woodlands and mountains.
Another equestrian adventure worth checking out is Annaharvey Farm in Tullamore, with its extensive cross-country course over the 380-acre farm and woodland. There is a variety of equestrian options to choose from, including pony camps, adult camps, riding for groups, and tailored riding holidays.
Offaly Water sports and Cruising
There’s a range of exhilarating water sports you can enjoy on the River Shannon. For example, try a two-hour guided Stand-Up Paddleboard Safari with Mid Ireland Adventure Tours (with a 4.9 star rating on Trip Advisor), from their base at Banagher on the Shannon. It’s a unique way to explore the inland waterways of Ireland, while spending the day doing something different. A two-hour Kayak Safari is another great way to discover the Shannon and you can choose from a single-sit or double-sit kayak. As well as taking in the views of the river, you’ll see Cromwell’s Castle, the Martello Tower, Banagher Bridge and Bullock Island.
Speaking of water activities, why not take in the tranquil waters of the River Shannon, Ireland’s longest river, on-board a cruiser? Based in Banagher on the Shannon, Silverline Cruisers and Carrickcraft provide cruisers to rent and you can steer your own course, discovering the many historic towns and sights along the Shannon. If you head north, you can take in Shannonbridge, a popular destination for angling, and the famous monastic site of Clonmacnoise and onto Athlone. Head south and you can stop by Portumna, home to Portumna Castle and Gardens, and Killaloe, where you’ll be treated to gorgeous views of Lough Derg, the Shannon’s freshwater lake.
Do you have what it takes to jump from an aircraft, 10,000 feet above ground at a speed of 200km per hour, before sailing downwards with a parachute, over the lush green fields and hills of the midlands? If you do, keep reading! Skydiving is not for the faint-hearted, but Edenderry-based company, Irish Parachute Club has 56 years of experience of sport parachuting and every level is catered for, from first-time jumpers to seasoned skydivers.
The price depends on the type of skydive you choose, but your assigned tandem master will brief you on all phases of your jump and ensure that you get the most from the experience, while taking every precaution to ensure safety.
Finally, hiking is very popular in Offaly, particularly in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, which was mentioned in the Lonely Planet top 12 trails in Ireland.
There’s a variety of looped trails that will take you through forest paths, wooded valleys and around the mountains, and there’s something for all levels of fitness and abilities.
If you want a challenge, try the 11km Giant’s Grave Loop, which is graded ‘strenuous’ and takes approximately two hours and 30 minutes to complete. This trail starts from Cadamstown and leads you to the Giant’s Grave, the remains of a megalithic tomb which is said to be the resting place of ancient warrior Bladhma, after whom the Slieve Bloom Mountains are named.
Croghan Hill, which is the remains of an extinct volcano lying just outside Croghan Village, is another popular hiking spot. While Croghan Hill is only 232m high, there’s extensive views across the countryside when you reach the top and it’s not an overly strenuous climb. It only takes approximately 20 minutes to reach the top.
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